(Chronic) Illness and Education

Anniversaries” (2020)

I initially began writing this post back in January, and yet it feels more relevant now than ever before. While I cannot recollect what led me to originally enter this title in to my blog drafts, I can only imagine that it had something to do with my ongoing frustrations with just how inaccessible my experiences with education, particularly post-secondary, have been.

Historically, my interactions with post-secondary institutions have been very rigid; shape up or ship out, as it were. Incapable of attending physical classes? So long, attendance points. Unable to meet tight deadlines? Plan accordingly for your unpredictable health. In need of a reduced course load? That simply isn’t how we do business here, work harder.

Work harder, plan smarter. Work harder, plan smarter.

I love to learn. The feeling of my mind igniting as it integrates a new concept is like none other. I do, however, have conditions which affect the length of time needed in order to complete said integration process, in addition to occasionally preventing me from being able to physically attend classes. Medication side effects and common colds only serve to compound these difficulties. Once a bright student for whom traditional memorization techniques worked, I now have days where I feel quite slow. My brain feels like a murky riverbed through which I cannot swim, only trudge. Despite my best efforts and high levels of motivation, academia has not proven particularly well equipped to accommodate my needs. School has left me feeling frustrated, rudderless and rejected more times than I can count. How am I supposed to singlehandedly tackle a system designed against me when there are days when I barely have the energy to leave my bed?

I began this post pre-pandemic. Since March, education delivery methods that were once entirely off-limits at the request of disabled students, such as digital learning and alternative assessments, have suddenly become commonplace. Truthfully, I cannot help but feel a certain level of resentment. Why was providing these methods to disabled students such an extraneous task, if the capacity to implement them quickly was there all along? Why was I made to feel like a burden, as though I was seeking unfair advantages and intentionally creating extra work for staff? Why was the system so unyielding to me, so entwined in its own rules and traditions that it failed to see the students falling into the cracks? Why was I put in this box to which I would never be able to conform?

All I want to do is learn and grow and develop as a human being; I do not understand why that is seemingly such a ridiculous request. I fail to see why my health makes me an inherently less valuable student than my able-bodied peers. What good does an “inclusive environment” serve if the only students who can participate are those who require minimal to no accommodations? How many bright minds are being lost to these rigid and unwelcoming systems?

I have been so very fortunate to find a home in a school that welcomes, and even celebrates, my differences. I can’t help, however, but think of all of my disabled peers who have not been so lucky. Students who either are struggling their way through degrees and diplomas in pursuit of their interests in spite of the additional difficulties that their schools impose upon their lives, or who have flat out been forced out of their passions and in to low-paying jobs. If we, as a society, can shift classes online on a dime, we can implement better supportive structures for students in extenuating circumstances. They deserve better than the bare minimum.

I deserve better than the bare minimum.

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